Saturday, 3 February 2018

World Animation: Australia/Mary & Max/Film Review

Figure 1, Mary & Max [Poster]

Adam Elliot's claymation melodrama 'Mary & Max' is at the same time heart-warming and heart-breaking movie based on the true story from director's personal life. It mixes up humourous and gloomy situations which blends perfectly with character's clumsy and wobbly appearance of the movie which discusses heavy themes such as mental illness, alcoholism, suicide and self-love to name a few. 'The disarming way Elliot goes about depicting alcoholism, mental illness and other psychological maladies is a testament to the skilful way the film balances happiness and sadness, playfulness and profundity.' (Buckmaster, 2014) The movie focuses mainly on mental illness, particularly Autism and Asperger Syndrom, the persons diffuculties to deal with a basic aspects of life which are for many people completely self-evident. It also shows how differently person who suffer with such a disorders perceive life events and situations. 'Dealing with complex issues in a heartfelt, honest, and empathetic way, Mary and Max is a must-see to understand how mental illness can colour, but not define someone’s personality....People aren’t defined by their mental illnesses. If we don’t treat people as people, we’re part of the problem.' (Todd, 2015)

Lonely, bullied at school 8-years old Mary, who lives in Australian suburb of Melbourn with her cleptomaniac alcoholic mother, her father working in a tea factory and her pet rooster, decides to write a letter to a randomly choosen address from a phone book. She feels distant from her parents, desperate for a company and unsatisfied with her mother's explaination of Mary's question 'where do babies come from'. Max is a 44-year old big, jewish guy who lives in his appartment in New York city at the address randomly choosen by Mary. He also feels lonely, distant from society and finds human expressions and communication confusing due to his asperger syndrom as the audience finds out throught the movie. And so Mary's honest and innocent desire to find an answer to her question and maybe a possible friend is the beginning of a marvelous friendship where two people unlikely to meet in person find support and best friends in each other. The movie is full of beautiful contrasts as is for instance different colour represantation of such a different worlds. Mary's Australian world is full of brown and beige shades with occasional colour (usually red) and Max's lonely life in loud New York is all black and white with a shades of grey with occasional colour (as red pom pom that Mary sent to him).

The essential part of the storyline is based on Mary, growing up from a lonely innocent girl into a haunted introverted adult. Another major part of the storyline is a moment of Max's diagnosis with severe depression and obesity and with Asperger syndrom as well. The director builds up on his own experience of over 25 years long friendship with his pen pal friend with Asperger syndrom, which gave him a better insight and understanding of this 'dissability' as characters in the movie refers to the Asperger syndrom. Max's reaction to the diagnosis is remarkable and a powerful message from the director towards the audience about the importance of self-acceptance and self-love.

Figure 2, Max's grey coloured world [Film Still]

'I do not feel disabled, defective, or in need of a cure. I like being an "aspie"! It would be like changing the colour of my eyes.' (Max)

Figure 3, Mary's brown toned world [Film Still]

The director who previously won Oscar and gained international recognition for his 23 minutes short animated movie 'Harvie Krumpet' in 2003, took his time with creating his debut featured film 'Mary & Max'. The whole production of the movie lasted for 5 years from which 57 weeks was the physical shoot. Elliot based the story and main characters on his own personal story and his friend with Asperger syndrom. It is a well known about the director that all of his work is based on his personal experiences and people around him but 'Mary & Max' is even more personal then before. As the director said himself in one of the interviews shortly after the movie was released: 'But this one is almost a documentary. I do have a pen friend in New York who I’ve been writing to for more than 20 years. He does have Asperger’s, he is a big man, he is Jewish, he is an atheist. And Mary...Well, I suppose Mary is me. Her environment was very similar to my own childhood experience.' (2009) The director became also the scriptwritter, designer and storyboarder of the movie and with the budget as small as eight million Australian dollars, he really did put his heart into the movie which is captured in every frame.

'Mary & Max' is dealing with a huge range of a serious themes to which everyone can relate to at some point of their lives and the lovely clay characters make it even easier for the audience to empathise with them, The movie is looking at severe aspects of a man's life throught the innocenct child's eyes and sometimes makes from them a tragically humorous situations. Maybe that's the reason why the movie received such a positive feedback from the audience and high rating from the film critics. Even though 'Mary & Max' never received theatrical distribution in United States, it was showcased at a number of film festivals all over the world including USA and won a several awards such as the Annecy Cristal at Annecy Internationl Animated Film Festival (2009) or Best Animated Feature Film at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards (2009). 

Despite of the seriousness of the movie's topics and a lack of 'Disney style' happy ending which the audience would expect from an animated movie, it is a beautifully sentimental story about friendship and accurate represantation of how much of a roller coaster human life could be. Adam Elliot's brilliantly weird claymation makes the audience not even laugh through their tears but also stop and think about their own lives.


Buckmaster, L. (2014) Mary and Max: rewatching classic Australian films 
At: (Accessed on 3rd Feb 2018)
Giles, J. (2009) MARY AND MAX Review 
At: (Accessed on 3rd Feb 2018)
Honeycutt, K. (2009) Mary & Max - - Film Review 
At: (Accessed on 3rd Feb 2018)
Pond, S. (2009) The Weird Brilliance of 'Mary and Max' 
At: (Accessed on 3rd Feb 2018)
Robey, T. (2010) Mary and Max, review 
At: (Accessed on 3rd Feb 2018)
Todd, A. (2015) Love Yourself First: Mental Illness In MARY AND MAX
At: (Accessed on 3rd Feb 2018)

Illustration List:
Figure 1, [Poster] Mary & Max
At: (Accessed on 3rd Feb 2018)
Figure 2, [Film Still] Max's Grey Coloured World 
At: (Accessed on 3rd Feb 2018)
Figure 3, [Film Still] Mary's Brown Toned World 
At: (Accessed on 3rd Feb 2018)

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